The key to winning a championship in fantasy baseball is to find some gems in the late rounds of your fantasy baseball drafts. Anyone can draft a top-10 player, but only the good ones can find the diamonds in the rough.
Below are some deeper NL starting pitcher sleepers for 2017. I analyze five hidden starting pitchers from the National League who I think will break out in 2017 and provide great return based on their current draft stock.
Deep NL Starting Pitcher Sleepers
Alex Wood (SP, LAD)
Alex Wood impressed in his first full season with the Braves, turning in a 2.78 ERA and 8.91 K/9 over 24 starts. He was in the midst of a down year in 2015, and was subsequently traded to the Dodgers in the Hector Olivera trade. Last season, he began to look more like the pitcher we saw in 2014, until elbow issues derailed his season. He made only 10 starts last season, with a 3.73 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. His FIP/xFIP of 3.18/3.29 say he pitched better than that however.
Though his stats dipped in 2015, one thing that remained consistent is his walk rate. His BB% of 7.8 percent last season was nearly identical to his 7.4 percent in 2015, and that 6.5 percent in his rookie season. His strikeout rate returned to normal last season; his K% was 24.5 percent in his rookie season, and 25.9 percent last season. It fell to 17.4 percent last season. Wood will still need to work on lowering his HR/FB rate (career-high 11.6 percent last season), but his GB% was the best of his career last year at 53.5 percent. With the elbow issues behind him, Wood can be a 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 pitcher with upside.
Jaime Garcia (SP, ATL)
After throwing nearly 900 innings with the Cardinals since 2008, Garcia was traded to the Braves for three minor leaguers this offseason as he enters the final year of his contract. Garcia had a down year in 2016, with a career-high 4.67 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. Some of this can be attributed to injuries; a finger injury affected his ability to grip the baseball, and a recurring blister cost him a fingernail heading into 2016. He got into some bad habits, resulting in his off year.
Heading into 2017 those issues are behind him, Garcia is looking to right the ship and find success in Atlanta. Last season his K% stayed in line with his career average, but his HR/FB% of 20.2 percent (!!) is likely to revert to his career average of 11.5 percent. His BB% was the highest it’s been since 2010 at 7.7 percent, which should also improve with his finger issues behind him. If he can return to his career averages, Garcia can be a very capable fantasy pitcher with a career ERA/FIP/xFIP of 3.57/3.56/3.48. Injury history is a cause for concern, so grab Garcia late as a big upside arm.
Zach Davies (SP, MIL)
After enjoying a cup of tea in the majors in 2015, Davies burst on the scene as a big fantasy surprise last season. He was able to improve his game in many areas, ending the year with a 3.97 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 28 starts. He doesn’t do his damage being a big strikeout guy; he is a master of control. He was able to up his strikeout rate from 6.35 to 7.44 last season, but more impressively he lowered his walk rate from 3.97 to 2.09 last season.
Davies doesn’t have overpowering stuff; his fastball tops out at 92.1mph and sits at 89.3 on average (up from 88.7 in 2015). His best pitch is definitely his changeup. He threw the change second only to his fastball, and it generated a K% of 29.5 percent last season. Opposing hitters hit .214/.238/.384 off the pitch last season with an outside swing rate (o-swing%) of 50.6 percent, the highest of any of his pitches. His changeup is his best pitch, but he also mixes in an effective slider and curveball. With his elite, he doesn’t need to overpower hitters to be effective. He should be a nice innings eater for Milwaukee this season with an excellent K/BB ratio.
Robert Gsellman (SP, NYM)
The Mets rotation was a mess last season due to injuries, but something good came from it: we got to see Robert Gsellman make his major league debut. He made eight appearances (seven starts), and held his own with a 2.42 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and a 42:15 K:BB ratio. Throughout his minor league career he wasn’t a big strikeout guy, he relies on limiting his walks, inducing soft contact, and getting hitters to ground out. He held a 54.2 percent ground ball rate last season (fifth among starters who qualified) and a microscopic 3.6 percent HR/FB rate.
After allowing nine earned runs through his first three starts, Gsellman settled in for his last four and flashed his potential. In those starts he threw two quality starts (one out away from three), allowing only three runs while striking out 25 and walking six over 24 innings. He did not allow a HR in those outings. If he can get his 3.02 BB/9 down to his minor league average of 2.42, Gsellman will be able to excel as the fifth starter in New York. He is the odds on favorite to get that spot over Seth Lugo and Zach Wheeler.
Dan Straily (SP, MIA)
Straily was able to make some minor adjustments in his game last season that had a huge impact on his success. The underlying statistics say he still has work to do (4.88/5.02 FIP/xFIP last season), but he certainly took a big step last season. After winning one game the previous two seasons with an unsightly 6.42 ERA, Straily was a 14-game winner last season for the Reds with a 3.76 ERA. He was 18th in the majors with 20 quality starts, and threw a career high 191.1 innings.
What changed that made him a more effective pitcher you ask? Pitch selection. He utilized his changeup more last season, and had one of the major league’s best sliders which allowed the seventh-fewest hits per nine innings in the NL. Throwing breaking pitches for strikes last season helped him become less predictable in hitters counts. The change was minor, but has been effective. He held hitters to a .218 average last season (down from .249 the previous two seasons). He still has work to do; his 3.43 BB/9 and 12.0 percent HR/FB rate both need to drop, but he is well on his way to becoming a consistent back-end fantasy starter.